Postcard from Rome, Italy: How do you say boulevardier in Italian?

Could not locate an Italian word online for flaneur or boulevardier, but the sights of Rome certainly encourage one to pursue the art of idly rambling her streets.

However, a proper phrase popped right out of the Mister’s mouth: Il dolce far niente. Sweet idleness.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Finally, a food break for you

This blog has been dragging you through museum after museum and church after church in Rome, even through my museum meltdown, without one food break. Time to forget art and culture and be honest about why we really travel to Italy. To eat.

This first food post represents an unusual grouping of what ended up being our favorite spots. Even though we traipsed miles across Rome every day, three of these were within three blocks of our apartment.

Let’s get right to a full confession. Our absolute favorite restaurant in Rome is a vegetarian one, Arancia Blu. That luscious stuffed red onion above, roasted until sweet and tender and resting in a pool of red pepper sauce, is among the offerings that seduced us back for repeat visits. Whether a warm bean salad, a crispy radicchio lasagna, chickpea with walnut ravioli, pumpkin ravioli, creamy risotto topped with fried artichoke or pistachio sorbet with caramelized pear – we loved everything we tried. The inside of Arancia Blu is like sitting in a friend’s personal library; outside tables are perched on a side street with little traffic.

We stumbled almost directly off the plane to set our forks twirling in our first plate of that Roman classic pasta dish, cacio e pepe. The rich sauce is the result of few ingredients – aged Pecorino Romano cheese, water from the pasta and a proper dose of freshly ground black pepper. We lucked out because our neighborhood Caffe Vergnano 1882 on Piazzale Flaminio turned out some of the best we tried.

Yes, you can find Caffe Vergnano affiliated coffee spots numerous places, but this location has a chef hidden inside. There is no printed menu, only a blackboard outside listing a couple of pastas and no prices. Reasonable enough in pricing to attract locals, the contemporary spot generally is bustling, which offers a chance to peer at the regulars’ tables and realize there are more dishes than the server recites. Spying is how we discovered one of the best vegetable platters in Rome for us to share with our pasta dishes. More roasted fennel, please.

And, when we were not too overstuffed from lunch, we would swing by Mondo Arancina Flaminio for Sicilian-style arancini to-go. The freshly made balls of rice were filled with things like spinach, prosciutto and cheese, mozzarella and peas or eggplant ragout before frying. Okay, another confession. We were always overstuffed but would grab some for the approaching wine hour anyway.

The final place in this post was way off the beaten tourist track; TripAdvisor only has seven reviews in English posted. We only made the trek once to La Gallina Capricciosa, but the meal was memorable. We barely snagged two seats in the packed family-run, hole-in-the-wall restaurant. The Mister’s Spanish worked fine here, as we were probably the only customers without Peruvian blood running in our veins. We way over-ordered, and the waiter was nice enough to eliminate one of our dishes. We started with fried yucca and an inexpensive, extremely generous serving of fresh ceviche in leche de tigre with the traditional corn and sweet potato on the side. We scarcely made a dent in our shared order of seafood rice.

I promise, more Italian dishes later.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Hailing two more graceful Marias

In addition to being dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the other bond this pair of featured Roman basilicas has is their façades were undergoing restoration and hidden from view.

In 38 B.C., some claim mineral oil spewed out of the ground, a miraculous sign of the coming of Christ, on the site in Trastevere Pope Callixtus I (?-222) chose for a sanctuary dedicated to Mary. Aside from the foundation, little remains of that early church.

As Pope Honorius II (1060-1130) lay dying, a group of cardinals gathered as a committee and named his successor, Pope Innocent II (?-1143). Chaos within the church, not uncommon when determining papal succession, erupted when a majority of cardinals objected to the process and elected Anacletus II (?-1138) as their leader. Pope Innocent II was forced to flee Rome for a number of years, while the competing “Antipope,” depending on which side is relating the story, ruled.

A tomb for Anacletus II had been completed inside Santa Maria in Trastevere, but the presence of his former rival’s tomb was salt in the wound for Pope Innocent II. He had the church, and the offending memorial razed. During the reconstruction of the church, Pope Innocent II commissioned his own resting place to be built upon the spot once occupied by that of the “Antipope.”

The capitals of the columns, if not the entire granite columns, lining the nave were retrieved from the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, which dated from around the year 200. Centuries later, when Pope Pius IX (1792-1878) was informed the faces adorning the capitals were of ancient Roman gods, he had them chiseled off the columns.

The mosaic over the apse, “The Coronation of the Virgin,” with the row of sheep underneath was completed the year of Pope Innocent II’s death. Saints are clustered on the right of Jesus, with pope-approved popes on the left, including, of course, Innocent II himself. Below the herd of sheep are a series of mosaics portraying the life of the Virgin, including “The Annunciation” featured above. The mosaics of Pietro Cavallini (1259-1330) represent an artistic evolution from Byzantine stiffness to more natural figurative work. Numerous glamorous features were added to the basilica by cardinals and popes in subsequent centuries.

A giant walnut tree grew atop the spot at the foot of Pincian Hill in Rome where the ashes of Emperor Nero (37-68) were relocated by a landslide from above. Foreboding ravens, and perhaps more wicked winged demons, haunted the tree, frightening the superstitious populace entering or leaving through the nearby gate to the city. Fortunately, the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Paschal II (1099-1118) in a dream with the solution. Upon her instructions, he performed an exorcism on the tree and then took an axe to it, a blow releasing the screaming evil spirits residing within. Nero’s remains underneath were thrown in the Tiber, and a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was erected in their place.

Pope Sixtus IV (1414-1484) ushered Rome into the Early Renaissance with the construction of an immense church on the site, Santa Maria del Popolo, and, among other enduring landmarks, the Sistine Chapel. He restored more than 30 churches and had a half-dozen more erected in Rome during his tenure at the helm of the church.

The photographs above capture only a fraction of the art stuffing Santa Maria del Popolo, its walls lined with chapels commissioned by families enriched through papal relationships. Sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) fill niches and flutter above arches; two enormous paintings by Caravaggio (1571-1610) hang in a chapel flanking the apse.

Yet, my favorite memorials are a pair of slabs in the floor marking the graves of two nuns.